Settlement of suit a poor salve for pain, I-83 crash widow says

November 02, 1990|By Deborah I. Greene | Deborah I. Greene,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

The settlement of a civil lawsuit against a trucker who killed five people in an accident on Interstate 83 last year may ease money problems for a Pennsylvania widow, but it won't lessen her grief or bring her husband back, she lamented yesterday.

"It doesn't really take care of the hurt inside. It's been a year and a half, and it hasn't been exactly easy," said Lesa Dalton, 28, in a telephone interview from her home across the Maryland line in Stewartstown, Pa.

Her husband Edward, 28, was one of five men killed April 18, 1989, when a tractor-trailer driven by Donald Armstrong Lee of Baltimore crossed the median of I-83 near Shawan Road and crashed into six cars.

Mrs. Dalton and her daughter, Brittany, 4, sued Mr. Lee and his employer, Durrett-Sheppard Steel Co. Inc., for $24 million after the Circuit Court acquittal of Mr. Lee on manslaughter charges in March. The civil suit alleging wrongful death was settled out of court in September for what was described as a "substantial" amount, but neither Mrs. Dalton nor her lawyer would disclose the sum.

In the criminal case against Mr. Lee, the court ruled that prosecutors failed to prove wanton and reckless disregard for life. The trucker was convicted on lesser traffic violations and fined $2,000.

The judgment angered Mrs. Dalton. "It was a big joke," she said. "He was guilty. I don't care what the court said, he was guilty."

Although Mr. Lee invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify during the criminal trial, he was forced in the civil suit proceedings to testify under oath about his actions on the morning of the crash and his long-standing struggle with alcohol.

He admitted drinking heavily the day before the accident, but denied that he had a hangover at the time of the crash or that he blacked out as a result of his drinking. His blood-alcohol level registered below the legal limit for impairment.

Mrs. Dalton said she is painfully reminded of her husband by the red-and-black 1957 Chevy truck that sits partly restored in their Stewartstown garage.

"He had big plans for that truck," she said. "He'd been working on it for years. Someday I hope to finish it in his memory and save it for my daughter."

Other civil suits against Mr. Lee are pending. He now works in the laundry room of a Northeast Baltimore hospital.

He told lawyers during the civil proceedings that he remembered little of the day of the accident. But what he did remember remained vivid: looking into the face of a dying man and crying aloud, "Oh God! Please don't die."

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